Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Caregiver of the Year

Last year the Relay For Life of Polk County instituted a new program to honor our caregivers.  We asked our survivors to nominate a caregiver as the caregiver of the year.  Our local Relay For Life committee then selected a caregiver of the year from the nominations.  Our 2014 Caregiver of the Year was Lyndell Smedley.  You can read his story here.

As a member of the Relay For Life of Polk County committee, I am involved in the selection process.  It is a difficult decision because there are so many dedicated caregivers. During this years selection process there was one nomination that stood out from the rest.

Shelby Brewster was six years old when her mother was diagnosed with cancer.  As a single mother with no family in the area Shelby's Mom went through aggressive chemotherapy treatment with only Shelby for support.

In today's issue of the Polk County Pulse there is a great article about Shelby.

Shelby Callahan Brewster – A Selfless Caregiver
by Jaclyn Rose

In your first impression of Shelby Callahan Brewster, she appears to be an average eleven year old girl, with a pretty smile.  Very sweet and soft spoken, she appears to be very shy, she loves art and roller skating and hopes to one day be a fashion designer.  Shelby is an honor roll student at Wickes Elementary School and loves swimming and the archery team and she hopes to spend many days this summer at Magic Springs with her mom.  But when you get to know Shelby and hear her story, you find out that this sweet middle school girl is a true hero to her mother, Teresa Callahan, and a bright and shining example to everyone around her.

Shelby was born in Texas, but moved to Polk County when she was a year old.  Here she lived a normal life with her mother until she was four years old.  At that time, Teresa, a seemingly healthy woman, learned that she was going into complete kidney failure.  When the doctors discovered Teresa’s illness they admitted her into the hospital where she stayed for two months.  During that time, Teresa suffered several different ailments, including congestive heart failure, and her step-sister stepped up to help with Shelby.  When they left the hospital, it went back to just Shelby and Teresa and sometime into her recovery, Teresa learned she had breast cancer that would require aggressive chemotherapy, Shelby was six.

“By a miracle of God, I recovered from the kidney failure, and it was a miracle of God, He gets all the glory.  When I was diagnosed with breast cancer it was just Shelby and I and she was my caregiver.  If I was sick, she was bringing me a wash cloth.  On the days I couldn’t fix dinner, she would bring me fresh fruit and make herself macaroni and cheese and a hot dog, at six years old.  She would tell me that she always tried to be a good girl so that I didn’t have to get on to her, she is so special.  Anything I needed, she was there to take care of me.  If I was sick in the middle of the night, she was there, patting me on the shoulder.  Through all of this, she has maintained high grades and stayed on the honor roll.  When I was at the hospital during my kidney failure, I had a photo of Shelby on the wall, and I would tell the doctor and nurses, you’re not doing this for me, you’re doing this for her, because she needs her mother,” explained Teresa.

Through all of this, this mother and daughter duo, have kept a remarkable attitude and consistently tried to see the bright side of this hard situation.  “I was nervous about how Shelby would handle me losing my hair during the chemo, so the day it started falling out I took her flowers at school and we went to the park to play and went and had my hair shaved and I put on my wig and we went and had a big dessert.  I told her life is going to give you a million things that are awful and you have to choose the good.  To this day, if you ask her about that day, all she really remembers is that was the day she got flowers,” Teresa said.

Today, Teresa is five years cancer free and her immune issues that caused the kidney failure are stable, though her health is an ongoing struggle.  If you ask Shelby why she stepped up to help her mother, she simply said that her mother was sick and she wanted to help her get better.  She does not remember going over and above, although she certainly did.  She is humble and sweet and simply wanted to take care of her mother.  “I like being her daughter, she’s nice,” said sweet Shelby.  Teresa’s current life expectancy is two and a half years, but the Callahan girls do not let that bother them.  Instead, they have plans for Teresa to live to the age of 88, and plan on having a happy and full life together.

“I know how blessed I am as a mom.  I know what she sacrificed and did.  She’s shy and quiet and no one else knows because she doesn’t tell anyone.  She’s the most amazing person I’ve met in my life and I get the wonderful opportunity to be her mom.  When I was sick, I explained to her that for Christmas I would do all I could, but I wouldn’t be able to do much.  She just said that I was present enough and all she wanted for Christmas was her mommy to be well,” Teresa explained.

Shelby was honored this year as the Caregiver of the Year at the Polk County Relay for Life.  She was nominated by her mother, Teresa, and at the very tender age of 11, Shelby reminds us all of the incredible importance that caregivers are to cancer patients and that their love and support is the driving force to keep fighting the fight.

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